The company I work for recently move to a new office. We needed to come up with names for our conference rooms and after much discussion we decided on names of restaurants which were unique to our town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. My assignment was to get some photographs of each of the places which we would get framed to be hung in each of the conference rooms.
One of the names we chose was Angelo's, a terrific local restaurant which is only open for breakfast and lunch. I had tried to get some pictures before, but it is a difficult place to photograph. It faces north and is next to the University of Michigan Medical campus which has some large buildings. As a result, the building sits in shade most of the day. In order to get a shot of it in sunshine, you have to shoot it between 7am and 8am in the summer. I went out this weekend just to get some trial shots which would help me figure out how I wanted to shoot it. The day itself was cloudy, but bright. This prevented the building from being in shadow, but resulted in flat images. I took several shots from different angles and finally decided on a shot taken at a slight angle to the front, from across the street. You can see from the original, raw camera image, the picture is nothing special:
As I looked at the image, I decided to see what I could do to make the image more along the lines of what I would ultimately like to take. The main things that I originally wanted to correct were the flat look and to eliminate distracting elements such as the light post, one way sign, etc. My ultimate goal with this image was to just have fun and see what I could end up with.
Step 1 - Add some punch to the image
The first thing I did after getting the image into Photoshop was to duplicate the background layer. I then used the Topaz Labs Adjust filter to bring out some color and character. I had recently read a blog post by Scott Kelby on Topaz Adjust and how he used it to create an effect similar to what you would get with the Lucis Pro plug-in filter. I decided to try a similar technique. I open Topaz Adjust and selected the 'Psychedelic' preset and saved the image. I immediately did a Fade of the effect to about 60%. You can see the effect below: (in all the image below, if you move the mouse over the image, you will see the before image and when you move the mouse back out you see the result with the effect/edit applied)
Step 2 - Clone out offending items
When I looked at the original image, I didn't like the fact that there was a light post and a one-way street sign right in the middle of my shot. I had thought I might crop out the left side of the shot to eliminate the one-way sign, but I really wanted the whole building. I spent quite a bit of time removing the street sign, the lamp post as well as the telephone pole and wires, parts of a chain link fence on the right side and a bit of a car which was in the image frame.
Some of the cloning was simple, particularly the parts in the sky. The parts along the building were more complicated because I had to deal with brick and block patterns. I knew that I was going to be applying a 'simplify' filter later, so I wasn't concerned with perfection, but I wanted to have reasonable lines and shapes, without obvious repeating elements. Another tricky element with the clone had to do with the picture frames inside of the restaurant. The light pole covered up half of a picture. Fortunately there was another picture to the left and I was able to take frame elements from it to create the rest of the frame for the right hand picture.
I don't claim that the cloning is perfect, but I'm pretty happy with it. The one thing that surprised me is that I did most of it using the touch pad on my MacBook Pro. I found that I had greater control than with my pen. It was easier for me to position the clone point precisely. With the pen, I found that when I touched the pen to the tablet I might not get the exact position I wanted. Probably just need more practice.
Step 3 - Simplify the image
All of the other images we are using in our new office building are some combination of HDR with the Topaz Simplify filter. I've been experimenting with the Simplify filter to create more abstract shapes out of elements in the background and to create an image which has a 'painterly' quality to it. For this image, I applied the filter and then masked out much of it on the main building. I wanted the building to be mostly sharp, but not quite.
Step 4 - Make local color and contrast adjustments
These next few changes were done to change some of the tonalities in the image The first step was to eliminate the purplish cast to the road. This color was introduced by the Topaz Adjust filter. I used a Hue Saturation layer to reduce the saturation and then used a layer mask to selectively apply it to the street.
The next adjustment was to add a bit more contrast to the entire image.
Finally, I thought there was too much blue in the windows and some of the metal parts (like the chimney). I used another Hue Saturation layer to selectively reduce the blues in the image. If you mouse over the image below you will see where the blue was removed.
Step 5 - Correct perspective distortion
I find myself getting pickier about having tilting buildings in my images, and since I'm not using a view camera which offers the ability to correct for distortions at capture time, I rely on some post-processing to correct such things. I created a new layer and used the Free Transform tool to adjust the image on the left and right side. I selected Skew and pulled the top left and right corners out until I got straighter lines. I turned on the guides to help me out. (as I look at it now I think I could do a better job, have to see)
Step 6 - Additional color corrections
I still wasn't happy with the look of the street in front of the building, so I decided to apply a localized curves adjustment layer to darken it. I started with the Curves dialog and pulled on the curve until I liked the look of the street. I then applied a mask to have the effect limited to the street.
At this point I felt that the bright sky was a distraction, so I used a curves layer to make it a bit grayer. I didn't like it that much better which led me to the change in the next step.
Step 7 - Replace sky
I try to stay away from adding elements to an image which weren't in the original shot. However I really didn't like the look of the sky and I was really just trying to create a version of this image which I would have liked to have taken (and hope to get in the future) So, I decided, what the heck let's replace the sky. I happened to have a landscape shot that I had taken which was primarily ground and sky. I dropped the sky image into the image, resized it a bit to fit my image and then proceeded to mask out the parts that covered the building.
Here is the original source image for the sky:
Since the image had already been run through the Simplify filter, I decided that I should run the sky through as well. I tried to go back and add the sky to the image before the Simplify had been applied, but I figured it was too much work. If I had known that I was going to replace the sky, I would have done it earlier in the process, but oh well. The simplify doesn't have much effect on the sky, particularly in the small size displayed on this blog, but in the larger finished image it does make a difference.
Step 8 - Minor tweaks and sharpen
At this point I was just going to sharpen the image, but then I noticed that the 'Open' sign just didn't stand out enough. I zoomed in to the 'Open' sign, selected my brush tool, picked a color from the sign itself and then brightened the color. I painted over the lettering to make it just a bit brighter.
That's it. This was several hours of work for an image which isn't overly spectactular, but it was fun to work on. I'm hoping to get over to Angelo's some morning early enough to capture the sun on the building and hopefully with some clouds in the sky. It would be nice if the umbrellas were open as well. I would still clone out the post and sign, but hopefully the raw image would require less playing around with. Anyway, it was fun to work on and hopefully it gives you some ideas on things you can try with your own images.
Comments and feedback welcome.
Image and text Copyright © 2009 James W. Howe - All rights reserved
Please visit my University of Michigan gallery at ImageKind to see other shots from Ann Arbor, Michigan.